Reported space debris threat to Crew Dragon capsule shines light on space pollution

In a video released by NASA and SpaceX, an unidentified object can be seen as it shoots past the Crew Dragon Endeavor capsule as it separated from its Falcon 9 second stage just 12 minutes into its mission.

Six hours later, the four astronauts on board were ordered back into their spacesuits when a second unknown object appeared to be on a collision path with the capsule. The U.S. Space Command acknowledged Monday that it was a false alarm.

SEE THE VIDEO: SpaceX capsule avoids potential collision with space junk

Of course, any unidentified flying object makes many people think of aliens.

"If we accidentally caught a UFO on tape...hey, if I had to bet, I would bet it is man-made space debris," said Markus Wilde, an aerospace engineering professor at Florida Tech.

Wilde has done extensive research on space debris. He says many of these "UFOs" are mostly defunct satellites and rocket parts, a big issue called space pollution.

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"The problem is really these large objects hit by a small object like a five-centimeter little ball that has the energy of a hand grenade and then blows them apart," Wilde said.

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Wilde says orbital debris creates a threat to both manned and unmanned spacecraft. 

"Making sure, as we move forward, that we eliminate the amount of debris, that we remove spacecraft from orbit at the end of their life. And, there is more work going into finding technologies that allow us to remove the stuff we already have up there," Wilde said.

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